UW-Madison computer science head expects disruption in state’s top industries

Guri Sohi, chairman of the UW-Madison computer sciences department, expects major disruption in Wisconsin’s biggest industries as computing plays an increasingly important role.

“It’s now getting to the point where there’s no getting away from computing,” he said at a recent meeting of the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Innovation Network in Wauwatosa. “Every decade or so something big is coming up.”

Importantly, he notes, this rate of change is accelerating. As future advances take less and less time to come out, he expects shakeups in industries across the board.

This trend is already hitting Wisconsin, where manufacturing and agriculture dominate the economy. But Sohi expects upheavals in financial services, tourism, medicine and transportation, noting “that’s where a lot of the future action is going to be.”

“Manufacturing is increasingly getting data-driven, automated — a lot of these processes are being improved by all sorts of data gathering and analysis,” he said. “A lot of biotech is becoming increasingly reliant on computing at its core.”

Jignesh Patel, a UW-Madison professor of computer sciences, says this rapid advancement is leading to a future global economy in which most tasks are performed by robots.

“You can think of them as hardware robots, software robots — robots that are invisible and look nothing like robots,” he said.

The rise of machine learning has led to robots like these learning how to perform certain tasks better than any human could. He says this was proven with drone technology just last year, when a NASA robot began to overtake “the craziest teenagers NASA can get their hands on” in drone racing.

Patel says the role of artificial intelligence and machine learning will only increase over time. He envisions a future where even the most delicate of tasks is entrusted to machines, rather than human hands. And, he says, this future is closer than many might realize.

“We’ve already seen lots of examples of health and digitalization — not just EHR, digitalization of health records — they’re going even further,” he said, noting some surgical operations are already being done with robotic assistance.

“The surgeon actually comes in and programs a robot, and is just standing by while the program is run to perform the surgery,” Patel continued. “Because a robot can get to parts that a human hand cannot, it can perform more intricate stitches than even the best brain surgeon in the world, and that’s just going to happen more and more.”

Sohi expects further disruptions in personalized medicine, health care automation, home security and much more.

“This is just the beginning,” he added.

–By Alex Moe